North Xtra: Seneca Valley soccer players enjoy senior moments
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The seniors on the Seneca Valley girls soccer team have been through the ups and downs during their three-plus seasons on the varsity.
They had unexpected success as freshmen, winning a WPIAL championship and going 22-1-1.
They had unexpected disappointment as sophomores, going 6-7-3 and missing the playoffs for the only time in coach Dave Sylvester's 12-year stint as head coach at the school.
They know the view from the top, winning section titles in 2009 and 2011, and from the bottom, finishing in sixth place in 2010.
This year the senior class and the rest of the Raiders are writing perhaps their best chapter yet.
Seneca Valley shook off a season-opening loss to Hampton to win 14 in a row, including a 3-1 win against Hampton in the second meeting. The Raiders (14-1, 10-1 before last night's section finale against Butler Area) have clinched the Section 2-AAA title ahead of Hampton (9-5-1, 8-3-1) and North Allegheny (10-3, 6-4).
"When they were freshman we won the WPIAL [title]. They understand what it takes and what a team needs to do to reach that goal," Sylvester said.
There are six seniors on the team but there is also a large 11-player freshman class, some of whom are relied on heavily. Before the season Sylvester reminded his seniors that their leadership off the field was just as important as what they did on the field.
"We have some young kids who are going to play and I talked to [our seniors] about what it was like four years ago when they were freshmen and the seniors took them in and nurtured them and brought them along," Sylvester said.
Most of the freshmen called upon by Sylvester play in the back as defenders. Senior defender Melissa Lynskey anchors that group and keeps everything organized.
Freshmen Paige Montrose and Lexus Lambert both start as defenders in front of sophomore goalkeeper Jessica Neill. Last season Neill started in net as a freshman.
"She has picked it right back up," Sylvester said. "She has made some ESPN Top Ten highlight reel saves, just some incredible saves that have kept us in games. I don't know how she has done it."
Midfielder Caroline Miller is another ninth-grader in the starting lineup. She has scored a pair of game-winning goals this season. Miller plays in the midfield along with juniors Marykate Zahorchack and Kayli Kumanchik.
"Marykate is really a ball winner, a real nice player who has come on strong toward the end of the year," Sylvester said. "Kayli has scored some big goals for us. We have a real nice mix of seniors and underclassmen. It is a good group of girls."
Kumanchik scored the game winner against Shaler on Oct. 3, in a 1-0 section road win.
Senior forward Morgan Williams is the leading scorer on the team. She hit the game-winning penalty kick three years as a freshman to clinch the WPIAL championship.
Senior midfielder Rachel Leak and senior forward Alex Bilka are two other scoring options for the Raiders.
Senior midfielder Misha Demchuk is a four-year starter who also played a key role on the 2009 WPIAL championship team. Senior Mallory Accamando can play either defense or outside midfield.
Seneca Valley was scheduled to play Butler on Wednesday before wrapping up its regular season with a non-section game Saturday at home against Gateway.
The Raiders certainly appear to be a WPIAL title contender but there are some big obstacles in the way, including one giant one in Peters Township, the two-time defending PIAA Class AAA champions.
Peters Township has not struggled against many teams in the postseason but Seneca Valley seems to have the Indians' number when it comes to the playoffs.
On the way to their first WPIAL title in program history in 2007, Seneca Valley upset previously unbeaten Peters Township in the WPIAL quarterfinals and in 2009 Seneca Valley defeated Peters Township in the WPIAL final to win the program's second WPIAL title.